DETROIT (AP) — Defense was supposed to be Matt Patricia's calling card when he was hired by the Detroit Lions.
That makes the embattled coach's predicament all the more puzzling.
Four games into his third season with the Lions, Patricia's team is showing no real sign of progress, and it's the defense in particular that is holding Detroit back. No lead seems safe for the Lions, who have already lost games after being ahead by 17, 11 and 14 points.
“Certainly when you talk defensive football, pursuit, hustle, tackling, those are kind of the fundamentals that you have to have at a high level,” Patricia said. “I would say that probably some of that is not consistent enough. We have good spurts of it (where) it's really great, other plays where it's not so good."
Patricia was a defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots before taking over the Lions. Detroit is 10-25-1 since his arrival, and it's hard to identify anything that's worked all that well. The Lions actually ranked 10th in the NFL in total defense in Patricia's first season, then fell all the way to 31st in 2019 and 26th this year.
This season began with Mitchell Trubisky throwing three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as Chicago rallied for a 27-23 win over the Lions. Detroit was no match for Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in a 42-21 loss the following weekend, and after beating Arizona, the Lions returned home and fell 35-29 to Drew Brees and New Orleans.
It's no shock to see the Lions struggling against opposing quarterbacks. Detroit ranked dead last against the pass last season, allowing 284 yards per game. Then the Lions traded standout cornerback Darius Slay to Philadelphia.
From a yardage standpoint, Detroit's pass defense hasn't been as bad in 2020, but the Lions have only five sacks through four games.
“A lot of the reason is we probably haven’t put them in pass-rushing situations," defensive end Trey Flowers said. "When we do get them in those situations we’ve just got to be more effective all around.”
Flowers pointed out that it's hard to rush the passer when the opposing team doesn't have to pass. The Lions have been abysmal against the run this season, ranking 30th in the league. They gave up 259 yards rushing in that loss to Green Bay and 164 against New Orleans.
“There are those plays that you see on tape that are not good,” Patricia said. “Those things are happening where we get knocked off the ball, or our pad level is too high or hand placement (is) not good enough — those are all the things we have to improve on to make it consistent from that standpoint.”
Safety Duron Harmon, acquired this past offseason in a trade from New England, sounded particularly disturbed by the way the season has started.
“I think sometimes we get out there and we try to make a play, when sometimes trying to make a play is not what we need to do," Harmon said. "It’s just doing your job, and we have to be more consistent with doing our job.”
After an open date this weekend, the Lions will have a chance to turn things around — and may need to if Patricia is going to last past this season. Of Detroit's next seven opponents, only one currently has a winning record. Two of them, Atlanta and Houston, are winless.
Of course, New Orleans was struggling and dealing with injury problems last weekend, and after the Lions jumped to a 14-0 lead, the Saints scored 35 straight points, leaving Detroit to answer for another collapse.
New Orleans had 29 first downs and went 10 of 14 on third down. The Saints didn't have to punt until the fourth quarter, the second week in a row the Lions failed to force one during the first three periods.
That may have been the clearest sign of how substandard Detroit has been on that side of the ball.
“I'm mad that the bye is this week. I'm upset, because I want to get back out there," Harmon said Monday. "I want to fix it. I want to be better, and I know the guys in this locker room want to be better too.”